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Pregnancy complications

  • Pregnancy complications may need special medical care.
  • Common complications include diabetes and anemia.
  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you feel fine.
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Preexisting diabetes

About 9 out of 100 women (9 percent) in the United States have diabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. Preexisting diabetes (called type 1 or type 2 diabetes) means you have diabetes before you get pregnant. This is different from gestational diabetes, which is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy.

Here are the top things you need to know about preexisting diabetes and pregnancy: 

  • Plan your pregnancy. Get your diabetes under control 3 to 6 months before you get pregnant.
  • If untreated, diabetes can cause problems during pregnancy, like premature birth, birth defects and miscarriage.
  • If you have preexisting diabetes, your health care provider wants to see you more often for prenatal care visits to make sure you and your baby are doing well.
  • How you controlled your diabetes before pregnancy may not work as well during pregnancy, so you may need to make some changes to keep you and your baby healthy.

When you eat, your body breaks down sugar and starches from food into glucose to use for energy. Your pancreas (an organ behind your stomach) makes a hormone called insulin that helps your body keep the right amount of glucose in your blood. When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin well, so you end up with too much sugar in your blood. This can cause serious health problems, like heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. High blood sugar can be harmful to your baby during the first few weeks of pregnancy when his brain, heart, kidneys and lungs begin to form. It’s really important to get treatment for diabetes to help prevent problems like these.

Can preexisting diabetes cause problems during pregnancy?

Yes. If it’s not managed well, diabetes can cause these problems during pregnancy: 

  • Preeclampsia. This is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Signs of preeclampsia include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headaches.
  • Premature birth. This is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to have health problems at birth and later in life.
  • Birth defects, like heart defects and birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Having a very large baby, weighing more than 9 pounds. Weighing this much makes your baby more likely to get hurt during labor and birth. You may need to have a cesarean birth (also called c-section) to keep your baby safe. A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb). Large babies are more likely to be obese or have diabetes later in life.
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is the death of a baby in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

If you have diabetes, what can you do before you get pregnant to help you have a healthy pregnancy?

Plan ahead so you’re as healthy as you can be before you get pregnant. Here’s what you can do: 

  • Manage your diabetes even if you’re not planning to get pregnant. If you’re thinking about having a baby, get your diabetes is under control 3 to 6 months before you start trying to get pregnant. Talk to your health care provider, a diabetes educator, a dietitian and other providers about how to manage your diabetes.
  • Use birth control until your diabetes is under control and you’re ready to get pregnant. Birth control is methods you can use to keep from getting pregnant. Condoms and birth control pills are examples of birth control.
  • Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Folic acid is a vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. If you take it before pregnancy and during early pregnancy as part of healthy eating, it may help protect your baby from neural tube defects. Because you have diabetes, your provider may want you to take more than 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.
  • Tell your provider about any medicine you take to make sure it’s OK to take when you do get pregnant. Your provider may want to change some medicines before you get pregnant if they’re not safe for you and your baby.
  • Eat healthy foods and do something active every day. Talk to a dietitian or a diabetes educator to help you create a healthy meal plan to help control your blood sugar.
  • Meet with medical specialists who can help you manage your diabetes and any complications that may come up during pregnancy. These doctors include a perinatologist who treats women with high-risk pregnancies and an endocrinologist who treats women with diabetes and other health conditions.

How is preexisting diabetes treated during pregnancy?

If you have diabetes, your health care provider wants to see you often during pregnancy so she can monitor you and your baby closely to help prevent problems or catch them before they get serious.

Blood sugar is affected by pregnancy and by what you eat and drink, how much physical activity you get and your growing baby. What worked for you before pregnancy to control your blood sugar may not work as well when you’re pregnant. Your provider tells you how often to check your blood sugar, what your levels should be and how to manage them during pregnancy. You may need to change what you eat or your physical activity. Or you may need to take insulin shots. If you’re already taking insulin, you may need to take more the longer you’re pregnant.

Here’s what you can do to help manage your diabetes during pregnancy:

  • Go to all your prenatal care visits, even if you’re feeling fine.
  • Follow your provider’s directions about how often to check your blood sugar. Call your provider if your blood sugar is too high or too low.
  • Tell your provider about any medicine you take, even medicine that’s not related to your diabetes. Some medicines can be harmful during pregnancy, so your provider may need to change them to ones that are safer for you and your baby.
  •  If you don’t already have a dietician, find one. Your provider can recommend one for you. A dietician can help you learn what, how much and how often to eat to best control your diabetes. She can help you make meal plans and help you know the right amount of weight to gain during pregnancy. Check to see if your health insurance covers treatment from a dietician.
  • Do something active every day. With your health provider’s OK, being active every day can help you manage your diabetes.

What is insulin resistance?

Some pregnant women with diabetes become insulin resistant. This means your body makes insulin but doesn’t use it well. During pregnancy, the placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies food and oxygen to your baby through the umbilical cord. The placenta also makes hormones that help your baby develop. But these hormones can make you insulin resistant. You may need more and more insulin the longer you’re pregnant—up to 3 times as much as you needed before pregnancy. You’re most insulin resistant in your third trimester.

If you have preexisting diabetes, is it OK to breastfeed?

Yes. If you have diabetes, it’s safe to breastfeed your baby. Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. It helps him grow healthy and strong. If you’re thinking about breastfeeding: 

  • Talk to your dietician. She can help create a new meal plan to make sure you get all the calories you need for you and your baby.
  • Talk to your provider about the amount of insulin you need. You may need less insulin than usual for a few days after giving birth, and breastfeeding can lower the amount even further. It’s safe to take insulin while breastfeeding.
  • Eat a healthy snack before or after breastfeeding.
  • Watch your blood sugar closely. You provider may want you to check it more often than usual.

What are hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia?

 Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar and hyperglycemia is high blood sugar. Both of these conditions are common if you have preexisting diabetes.

Hypoglycemia usually is mild and easily treated by eating or drinking something with sugar in it. If it’s not treated, it can cause you to pass out. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include: 

  • Being hungry
  • Having a headache
  • Feeling weak, dizzy, shaky, confused, worried (anxious) or cranky
  • Looking pale
  • Sweating
  • Having a fast heart beat

Hypoglycemia can be caused by: 

  • Not eating enough. This means you may eat meals or snacks that are too small or you may skip or delay eating.
  • Taking too much insulin
  • Getting too much physical activity

If you have hyperglycemia, you may need to change the amount of insulin you take, your meal plan or the amount of physical activity you get. Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

Being thirsty

  • Having a headache
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Having trouble paying attention
  • Having blurred vision
  • Having a yeast infection

Your provider can check you for these conditions during pregnancy to make sure you and your baby stay healthy.

Last reviewed August 2015

When to call your provider

  • If you have heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than 24 hours
  • If you have fever, chills or severe headaches
  • If you have vision problems, like blurriness
  • If you have quick weight gain or your legs and face swell

Have questions?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

When to call your provider

  • If you have heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than 24 hours
  • If you have fever, chills or severe headaches
  • If you have vision problems, like blurriness
  • If you have quick weight gain or your legs and face swell

Have questions?

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